I survived another week at Camp Lair… a feat deserving of a medal. Those of you who know me are aware that every year, same month, same week, the Weight family, complete with aunts, uncles, cousins, ex-wife, ex-in-laws, ex-cons, ex-cetera, travel to a remote region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to a seven day family recreation camp run by the University of California Berkeley Alumni Association. Camp Lair is something I grin and bear every year…..like a pap smear. But everyone else loves it. Hence the grinning and bearing part.
The entire camp is situated precariously at a 90 degree angle on the side of a mountain, sort of like a flea circus on the hind leg of a Great Dane. The area is covered in pine trees that reach up to Heaven. It’s prime territory for Smoky the Bear and the Unibomber (if he were in the market for a new residence). We sleep in tent cabins, reminiscent of adventure-loving pioneers, or refugees. The bath houses are up hill from every cabin. When you’re finished in the bathroom, the cabins become uphill. Come to think of it, everything is uphill. By the end of the week, my legs look like Lou Ferrigno’s.
Camp Lair attracts the same visitors each year. Berkeley alumni looking to reminisce about the good old days of fighting for liberal causes, chaining themselves to trees, roaming naked around campus, and chanting Cal football fight songs. I’ve made a few friends along the way, Denise, Megan and Sharon, who are always good for drinks, laughs and ample commiserations. They’re Jewish…and laugh at my jokes about the Holocaust being a History Channel publicity stunt. (I don’t really believe that for those of you about to phone my mother.)
We all have that one friend who’s perpetually in crisis, always on the verge of a breakdown and has access to every high-rise building ledge in their town. Gina, a beautiful former Miss Arkansas, bank executive and nine time ex-wife is Camp Lair’s representative Week Eight train wreck. Occasionally she’ll wander up from her cabin to have a drink with us. Or three drinks, or ten, or enough to improve her position on the national liver transplant waiting list. When Gina drinks, she cries. She gurgles, spills, spits and recounts all of life’s injustices….namely men. Through Patron fueled tears, Gina weaves tales of one night stands, broken promises, unmet expectations and cosmetic surgeries paid for by Cal, the idiot, Reid the pedophile, and a guy affectionately referred to as Fuck Face Fowler. Then she stumbles back down the hill and passes out. Unbelievably, she ALWAYS makes it to 8 am breakfast each morning.
As I hiked over to Sharon’s cabin Wednesday night after the camp talent show, I could already hear Gina in high gear, cursing someone named Kyle. Upon my arrival, Denise and Sharon appeared shell shocked as if Gina had just dropped a soap opera bombshell that might cause them to never be able to look her in the eye again. Something to do with her fourth husband and a wood chipper, or maybe her seventh husband’s teenage lover, paint thinner and a lighter, but I’m just speculating. I didn’t want to know. Different day….different bull*&^% drama. Same insane chick.
As Gina wept and attempted to rock back and forth in her camp chair, Megan began to sing “hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…(I’d have probably chosen a different tune, perhaps, Girl, don’t’ go away mad, Just go away, by Motley Crue.)
I tried to think of something poignant and wise to say, something sort of funny that might salvage the night’s mood. As Megan sang, I pondered. Not about relationships, or marriages or middle aged Cougar jokes but “what kind of mom bribes her kid to stop crying by purchasing a loud, squawking, pooping, lice ridden bird?" Forget the pacifier, the blankie, the bottle, the rocking chair. Let’s buy the kid something that will loudly mimic his cries all night long for the whole neighborhood to hear. I mean, there are probably appropriate recipients of a pet mockingbird, but a colicky baby wouldn’t top the list. Perhaps, the Bird Man of Alcatraz, Alfred Hitchcock, or Michael Jackson….were they still alive, would cherish an avian friend. But I seriously doubt that Dr. Spock or even Dr. Kevorkian would recommend one to settle a baby to sleep. However, I know how hard it can be to shop for certain people. Why a mockingbird? Why not a falcon, a bald eagle? That would surely impress. Or a $1,000 white cockatiel?
The song continued….if that mockingbird don’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring. It’s always a good idea to keep receipts just in case the product doesn’t live up to expectations. But why would you buy a diamond ring instead of simply replacing the mockingbird with one more willing to participate in sing alongs?
Which brings me to the next point. What would a crying baby want with a diamond ring? Again, lets refer back to the list of crying baby supplies: pacifier, blankie, bottle, rocking chair, lullabies, Benadry, Bourbon (for mom, of course). No one ever recommends buying highly expensive jewels for babies. Not even Marilyn Monroe or Tom Shane, everyone’s friend in the diamond business. They could be quite the choking or swallowing hazard. And I, for one, don’t want to have to go searching through a used diaper for a digested ring.
Now crying women are a different story. Husbands, if you should be faced with a blubbering wife who’s just been snooping through your cell phone records, then skip the mockingbird step and go straight for the diamond ring. The bigger, the better. Your phone’s delete button is also quite handy.
The song continues. At this point Sharon and Denise begin arguing about whether the words are “if that diamond ring don’t shine” or “if that diamond ring turns brass.” My own mother used to prefer the “don’t shine” version and then she’d follow it up with “mama’s gonna buy you some turpentine.” Yeah, I know. That just might be what’s been wrong with me all these years. Turpentine poisoning. I can see her now saying “Well we got her a mockingbird and that didn’t make her stop crying. So we bought her a diamond ring and that turned out to be a cubic zirconium and she wailed even louder. Hell, Robert, let’s just poison the kid and then maybe we’ll get some sleep.” Perhaps she could’ve gotten me a porcupine. It makes as much sense as a mockingbird, really. Or maybe a vat of red wine. Now we’re talking.
According to Google, the correct version is “if that diamond ring turns brass, mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass.” A looking glass. Is that a mirror?” Forget the diamond and bird, Kid. Just stare at yourself with this.” Why not a kick in the ass, a large-mouthed bass, some bermuda grass. I seriously hope the songwriter, found another career after penning this little ditty. Even Carly Simon and James Taylor couldn’t make sense of it. Perhaps it was the downfall of their marriage. Just a thought.